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Plastic in the pepperoni: Food flavor makers Griffith Labs, Innova sue India-based supplier over product contamination

By Dana Herra | May 21, 2015

An Illinois-based food manufacturer has brought suit against two India-based companies it alleges are responsible for contaminating certain seasonings used to make pepperoni with bits of plastic.

Innova, a manufacturer of savory flavorings headquartered in Lombard, and its Alsip-based parent company, Griffith Laboratories U.S.A. Inc., filed suit in U.S. District Court in Chicago on Tuesday, May 19. The suit names Kancor Ingredients Limited, an ingredients manufacturer specializing in extracts such as spices and oils, and Balmer Lawrie-Van Meer Limited, a manufacturer of plastic containers, as defendants. Both Kancor and Balmer Lawrie-Van Meer are headquartered in India.

According to the suit, early in 2013, Kancor sold Griffith two batches of oleoresin paprika, a natural food coloring used to give foods a deep-red color. The extract was shipped to Griffith in plastic containers made by Balmer Lawrie-Van Meer.

Innova used the oleoresin paprika in several lots of liquid pepperoni seasoning it then sold to two businesses that make pepperoni for pizza.

In February 2013, both of those customers contacted Innova and claimed they had found small pieces of plastic contaminating the seasoning. According to the court filing, one customer found at least six pieces of plastic. Innova then screened its remaining inventory of the Kancor oleoresin paprika and found an additional 14 pieces of plastic.

Griffith paid one of the customers nearly $151,000 and the other more than $780,700 to settle claims brought about as a result of the contamination. The suit also claims the incident cost Innova more than $77,000 in additional costs and lost profits.

The suit says the bits of plastic flaked off the containers used to ship the oleoresin paprika. According to court documents, Griffith representatives visited the Kancor manufacturing facility, where they found similar bits of plastic on and around the filling line and loosely attached to pails and lids in a warehouse.

Griffith also sent representatives to visit Balmer Lawrie-Van Meer, where the containers were made, and found the molds used to make the pails leave behind bits of loose plastic that can later flake off, the suit says.

The suit charges Kancor with negligence, breach of implied warranty, strict products liability, and violating the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act. It claims Kancor did not take care to prevent the contamination and led the plaintiff to believe the product was safe and complied with food safety laws.

The suit charges Balmer Lawrie-Van Meer with negligence and strict products liability for manufacturing and distributing defective containers that could potentially contaminate their contents.

The suit claims the U.S. District Court has jurisdiction because the plaintiffs and defendants are based in different countries and the amount sought exceeds $75,000, and because the charges involve the federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act.

Griffith and Innova are seeking damages of more than $1 million, plus court costs and attorney fees. Griffith is seeking to recover the money it paid to settle claims with Innova’s customers, and Innova seeks to recoup its costs and lost profits.

The plaintiffs, represented by Martin C. Sener and Robert E. Wilens, of Clausen Miller, P.C. in Chicago, have requested a jury trial to settle the case.

U.S. District Court, Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division No. 1:15-cv-4391

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